04 January 2009

A bit more on defensive blogging

Well, this blog got its first firestorm of comments after I chose to use a recent story to get discussion going about "defensive blogging." The story is about Corps of Engineers employees posting comments on a website about the New Orleans levee system. While most of the comments about my blog entry were about the details of the case - which was not the primary subject of my post - there are several good lessons and highlights that have come out of this experience. I'll summarize them as TTPs for defensive blogging actions.

ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH: NON-NEGOTIABLE. In the comments, New Orleans Ladder said "it is never a good idea for the Army to lie to the American people on American soil with American Tax-paid computers." I couldn't agree more! In my opinion, this is a must - no discussion! Also in the comments, Ms. Rosenthall (posting as WateryHill) wrote in response to a comment by Adam S., "I am just an American citizen, but I do not understand why you say for the Army to fabricate information and call it facts, that the Army is telling 'its side of the story.'" If what was being posted was, in fact, fabricated information, then the person posting it is wrong and is doing more harm than good for their cause and for the Army. Since the idea of defensive blogging is to correct or complete a story then the information a Soldier leaves on anothers blog must be completely accurate. I've written a little about this in the past when discussing credibility and how Soldier's blogging fits in the fundamentals of information.

BE HONEST ABOUT WHO YOU ARE. Also in the comments, Ms. Rosenthall wrote "The commenter 'stevonawlins' is on record saying he does not work for the Corps, meanwhile his comment originated from Corps Headquarters in New Orleans." There appears to be a disconnect in this case - either his claim or the IP address is false. I won't hypothesize here about which it is, because the more important point is that if you are a government employee - Soldier or civilian - and you are posting information about something your organization is involved in, then you owe it to the people to be honest about who you are. This is one of the rules that are followed in CENTCOM's defensive blogging exploits - and it is appreciated and respected by the authors of the blogs being commented on by CENTCOM's team. This is also what I've done when leaving comments on others blogs, and what Ms. Rosenthall did when leaving comments on this blog. Of course, there may be some security risks that are being taken by exposing your identity on-line, but, as Mike's 25 axioms for blogging points out, there are ways to protect yourself by carefully choosing what you write about.

ENGAGE THE ISSUES, NOT THE PEOPLE. Some people may like the personal bashing that is not uncommon in the blogosphere, but for professional discussions it should remain professional. And one very common rule for professional debate is to engage the issues, not the people. For example, New Orleans Ladder wrote in the comments, "blog etiquette dictates a civil response to a civil question from a post's subject." He's right; he asked me to address the issue raised by Ms. Rosenthall without attacking me. When one side decides to begin bashing the other, the discussion can quickly degenerate into something that is completely useless. By engaging the issues real discussion occurs and, hopefully, solutions are found. As Soldiers in the blogosphere, much like when we're visiting with friends or family or walking around town, we leave perceptions about us as individuals and people often generalize about all Soldiers from those perceptions that we create. We must take advantage of the opportunity for people to see that we are professionals - just as they can see in the accomplishment of the missions we are assigned. This may be a bit of a challenge, especially if you choose to leave comments on a website that is clearly anti-military or has engaged in hateful rhetoric, but we must always remain professional, even when we disagree with someone's ideas or opinions.

These three TTPs should be simple for us to follow. I'm interested to hear from those of you that may have engaged in a defensive blogging mission. Share your experiences in the comments to this post. Thanks!

P.S. for a great example of effective defensive blogging, take the time to read the comments to my original post on this subject. Ms. Rosenthall and others were effective at ensuring I had the complete and correct story, they were primarily professional in tone, and they were clearly passionate about the subject. It's just one more example of the power of back-and-forth that can occur in this new media.


  1. Major Bruhl,
    Just to set you straight, what you experienced in the comments section, to which you refer, would be better described as "Offensive Blogging". Hardly a firestorm of comments from only 2 survivors of the Corps' engineering failures. There is one other commentator (No Corps).

    In the previous post on "Defensive Blogging", Ms Rosenthal offered to provide you with evidence of this violation by "your branch", the Corps of Engineers, of the Federal Code governing computer fraud --but you declined.
    Instead, you would do a whole new post now stating:
    [IF what was being posted was, in fact, fabricated information, then the person posting it is wrong and is doing more harm than good for their cause and for the Army.]
    [There appears to be a disconnect in this case - either his claim or the IP address is false. I won't hypothesize here about which it is,(???) because the more important point is that IF you are a government employee - Soldier or civilian - and you are posting information about something your organization is involved in, then you owe it to the people to be honest about who you are.]
    IF is a might big word, Major Bruhl. IF the Corps had built those levees correctly the first time we would not be having this discussion. IF you had accepted Ms Rosenthal's offer of proof of this violation, we would not be having this conversation.
    Rather, you said you would take her word for it. IF you had taken her word for it we would not be having this conversation.
    It does not appear from your post that you took her word for it. You leave the impression of ambiguity at best.
    You seem to be attempting to spin this story into something it is not, to wit: Defensive Blogging. Is there a line between what you are attempting to present here and standard Public Relations? And when do you folks actually activate "Offensive Blogging"
    For example:
    Who wrote this article?
    It was wrong. The Corps knew this at the time. It was advance spin published The Day After the Corps Flood Walls Failed, before the bodies had even been counted, before the water had even stopped rising.

    You may not want to get into any of this, but when you guys start killing American citizens on American soil, as in the Federal Flood of New Orleans on August 29th, 2005, something needs to be done.
    I counted 13 bodies myself. My nephew scraped 16 bodies off the floor of the Convention Center with a snow shovel.
    This is not a frivolous piece of milblogging in the Green Zone, Major Bruhl.
    This is America.
    Over 1200 people lost their lives as a direct result of the "your branch's" engineering failures. And it looks like they may very well get away with it. Your branch. Your Army Corps of Engineers. Is it MY Army? Is it our Army?

    If you ever do make it to one of your Corps' public meetings you cited in the previous post in response to my question, you might learn the difference between "Dialogue" and "Public Relations".
    You studied engineering. You called them "your Corps". The website you cited looks Exactly like yours at Public Affairs that I asked you about above.
    An unfunny, uncanny coincidence that.
    Those meetings are Public Relations events, which fewer and fewer local citizens attend.

    Thank you,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  2. Editilla - I'm sorry if you feel that you are not getting satisfactory answers from me to what is being done to prevent anything like the Katrina disaster to happen again. But, again, I am unqualified to provide such answers, and my current focus is as a student at the Air Command and Staff College, not as an investigator for the Corps of Engineers.

    I'm also sorry that you believe the public meetings of USACE are nothing more than public relations events. The best thing I can recommend is that you continue to put pressure on the New Orleans district to provide you and the many other concerned citizens with satisfactory answers.

    Bottom Line: I'm not the guy who can explain what went wrong or why in the devastating flood. Nor am I the guy who can get those answers. Nor is this the blog that serves as a place that will get to the bottom of this case.

    While I am a member of the Engineers, as I stated before I have never worked in the New Orleans district. In fact, I've never worked in a Corps office. I've served in Army Engineer units filled with Soldiers who dedicate themselves to deploying around the world and accomplishing dangerous missions that we are called on to do by our nations' leadership. I am proud of the Soldiers I have served with. I am proud of my service. I am proud of my branch. But I am unqualified to address the specific concerns you raise. Although you will likely not like this suggestion (and you have likely already done so), I recommend you address your concerns to the New Orleans district leadership.

    Not sure why you don't like the use of the word "if". In the context in which I used it, it simply implies that I'm not going to dig into the details of the case. That's not the purpose of my blog. The purpose of my blog is to investigate ways the Army can better use new media in its efforts to communicate with the public. And, as stated before, my intent with using the story of the Corps employee posting comments to Levees.org was as an introduction to the concept of taking similar actions to correct or complete stories posted around the web.

    If you read both my posts about defensive blogging, you'll find that I am not attempting to spin the story about Levees.org in any way. I simply used it as an example of how the Army may want to engage the blogosphere. I do not address specific details of the Levees.org case except to point to guidance that I suggest we should use if we make this a regular type of action. I haven't condoned anything. I haven't passed judgement. If you think that makes my comments ambiguous, oh well. The purpose of my project(of which this blog is a part) is to investigate ways in which the Army can better use new media. Also, if you read my posts, I believe you'll find that what I suggest we do is exactly what you suggest - tell the truth and don't hide our identities.

    So why did I refer to the comments as a "firestorm"? Because, for this very new blog, the number and length of comments to that post well surpassed any that any other post had received.

    And why did I decline the evidence from Ms. Rosenthal? Because it would not help this project, I'm in no position to do anything with it, and it would be better sent to someone in authority at the New Orleans district who could do something with it.

    And why did I do a "whole new post"? To summarize some lessons I've learned that I think will serve us well as we look to be more effective and trustworthy bloggers. That's the purpose of this blog.

  3. Thanks, Major Bruhl. That'll work.
    Welcome to the Blog'0'reamery.
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder